Cancel Culture is the push to remove all traces of something or someone from society when what they stand for doesn’t conform to current ‘group think’. At a personal level, we rightly condemn bullying in all its forms – physical, verbal and cyber. But cancel culture has somehow slipped through the back door as a form of collective bullying. It is often extremely convincing, because it purports to champion a legitimate social concern such as the need to end racism against people of colour.
And what reasonable, socially-minded person could disagree with that? But then it subtly shifts the agenda away from meaningful social reform to simply targeting people and institutions who have very little to do with the issue. Cancel Culture whips up a storm of rage and hate and directs it against targets that lie completely outside the boundary of reasonable debate and reform.
Here are some recent examples:
A church in Birmingham, Alabama, had its lease cancelled on Thursday after a raging Cancel Culture campaign was waged against it. Why? Simply because the Pastor liked one of President Trump’s tweets. In an even more bizarre example of Cancel Culture gone crazy, there is a current huge push to have the Splash Mountain ride at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California removed. Why? Because it is based on the 1946 movie, “Song of the South” which depicted slavery in the south as it was more than a century ago. Does the ride itself have ANYTHING to do with slavery? No. Does it repress blacks in ANY way? No. But that doesn’t seem to deter the wave of hysteria which is now being directed toward the Disney corporation to pressure them to close the ride.
I am sure most of us are aware of the recent decision by HBO Max to delete “Gone with the Wind” from its streaming services simply because it also depicts the slavery of its time. Other Cancel Culture extremists are currently calling for the American restaurant chain, Cracker Barrel, to be closed, because when you enter one of their restaurants “you get a whiff of Jim Crow” (this is American slang for repressive attitudes toward blacks). Do Cracker Barrel eateries have ANYTHING to do with promoting slavery or repressing blacks? No! Their only ‘crime’ is that their restaurants are decorated in the style of the old south of a hundred years ago, with wooden chairs and pots and pans hanging from ceilings. That’s all!
Further absurdities are being taken up around the globe, as the wave of Cancel Culture hysteria spreads. In Australia there are calls for Captain Cook, one of the early discoverers of Australia, to be dethroned as a national icon; for him to no longer be lauded in school curriculums and for his statues removed from public places.
Why? Because when he landed in New Zealand during an exploratory voyage, several Maoris were shot and killed by his men. This, of course, was a tragic even, but what Cancel Culture proponents fail to understand is that the Maoris rushed toward the Europeans with spears raised, yelling aggressively. Cook’s men were not acting out of racial hatred, but out of fear for their lives.
This brings up another disturbing aspect of Cancel Culture: the desire to sanitise our history – to remove from our collective memory anything from our past that we find uncomfortable. Do we now decry slavery and the mistreatment of blacks? Yes – and rightly so. But to suggest that books and movies and historical records that depict life as it was in the past should be redacted from our social memory is ridiculous and insulting to our intelligence. I am perfectly capable of watching Gone with the Wind and not subsequently rushing out to buy black slaves! And I am perfectly capable of looking at a statue of Captain James Cook without wanting to shoot Maoris!
But by far my biggest concern with the Cancel Culture movement is that it focuses on the wrong things. It whips up a wave of hysterical rage against people and institutions which have little or nothing to do with the real issues that need addressing. It seeks to enact vengeance upon targets that are largely innocent while ignoring the real issues of social reform that need addressing.
Cancel Culture is an ugly, spiteful form of social bullying that directs a poisonous stream of hate and vitriol against targets that are, at best, side issues and distractions, while making no meaningful contribution to the nuanced debate that is needed to bring about profound social change at the legislative level.
Cancel Culture is mindless, childish ‘mob-think’, whipped up by left-leaning radicals with a post-modern agenda aimed more at disruption and dismantling than reform and rebuilding.
Am I concerned about the racism inherent within America and other parts of the world? Absolutely! In fact, ‘concerned’ is too mild a word. I am outraged by the ongoing mistreatment and murder of blacks by American police. I am similarly outraged by other acts of racism in my own country and other parts of the world. It is appalling that this kind of thing can still be occurring in the 21st century, and something must be done about it.
But the answer does NOT lie in cancelling rides at Disneyland, closing restaurants because of their antique southern decorations or banning old movies. That is a puerile, childish reaction that achieves nothing. In fact, it is counterproductive because it distracts from the real issues and gives the false impression that we are actually achieving some kind of meaningful reform. What utter nonsense!
We are better than this. Don’t let the unthinking mob sweep you up in their mindless hysteria. The world needs you and I to engage in mature debate; to stand up and demand real changes to legislature and to confront ACTUAL instances of racism in TODAY’S world instead of throwing statues in rivers and closing down harmless theme park rides.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He spent 31 years in Christian ministry as a church pastor and a Christian educator. He is the author of Finding God When He Seems to be Hiding; No More Monkey Business: Evolution in Crisis; and Making Sense of the Bible. He has also written a best-selling series of science fiction books.